Posted by Ancestry Team on March 8, 2015 in Website, Women in History

Wilma Pearl Mankiller has a unique story and background, unlike any other woman featured in our Leaving a Legacy series.

Born  in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Wilma Pearl Mankiller descended from a long line of full-blooded Cherokee Indians on her paternal side, and had Dutch and Irish ancestry on her maternal side.

Mankiller lived in Oklahoma through her teens, until her family moved to San Francisco. The move was part of a Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation policy, an effort to lure Native Americans off reservations to cities with the promise of work.  During college, Wilma served as coordinator of Indian programs for the Oakland public schools. It was around this time in her life, Mankiller became an advocate for Native Americans.

She married in 1963, while still living in San Francisco, had two daughters, and divorced in 1976. After the divorce, she and her daughters returned to Oklahoma where she later took on her role as economic development coordinator for the Cherokee Nation.

Her Impact on History

Mankiller’s involvement in Cherokee Nation grew and in 1983 she ran for deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation and won. In 1985, she was she was named the tribe’s principal chief, becoming the first woman to serve as chief of the Cherokee Nation.


During her tenure, Mankiller is credited with expanding social service programs for Cherokee people like healthcare and education. Mankiller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions in 1998. Upon her passing, President Barack Obama had the following to say about her legacy:

“As the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, she transformed the nation-to-nation relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the federal government, and served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America. Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work.”  

Want more of Wilma Mankiller’s incredible life story? Pick up a copy of her autobiography Mankiller: A Chief and Her People.

Looking for additional Native American record collections?  Find rich and detailed records in these resources:

American Indian Records on Ancestry
Historical records from 570 tribes including census counts, land allotments, marriage certificates, citizenship documents and more.

Ancestry’s Native American Research Guide 

NARA guide to the Bureau of Indian Affairs records

Oklahoma Indian & Pioneer Historical Collection

Oklahoma Historical Society Image collections


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Ada Lovelace


Hedy Lamarr


Madam C.J. Walker

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